by Meg Loughman
After a lifetime of enduring period after period, the prospect of having all the cramps and bleeding come to an end for good may come as a welcome change. But, of course, there’s a pretty notable obstacle standing in the way of that for menstruators, a rite of passage that must be undergone: menopause.
According to the National Institute on Aging, menopause is reached once it’s been a year since your last period. The stretch leading up to this is known as perimenopause, a time in which your ovaries’ production of the hormones estrogen and progesterone begins to decrease. The menopausal transition—from your last period to and through menopause itself—is a natural part of aging, one that most-commonly takes place between the ages of 45 and 55 and comes with its own set of symptoms. It affects everyone in a variety of unique ways, from fluctuations in your flow, to changes in the way your body uses energy & distributes weight, to the length of time that it endures (while the average is 7 years, it can be as long as 14).
You’ve probably heard about the hot flashes that signal perimenopause is underway. But according to Ann Steiner, MD, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Penn Medicine, the fear-mongering surrounding all this talk of hot flashes, memory loss, vaginal dryness, & other menopause symptoms tends to mislead people about what going through menopause is actually like. “The symptoms aren’t always as bad as expected,” notes Dr. Steiner, adding that worst of symptoms like hot flashes happen during perimenopause and are over by the time you’re in menopause.
Still, talking openly about menopause has long been seen as taboo, so there’s plenty of misinformation that pervades — like menopause being treated as an “illness” when, in reality, it’s just a part of the process of getting older. A podcast hosted by women’s health expert Dr. Mary Jane Minkin and sponsored by Pfizer, menopause: unmuted, has aimed to unroot the historical silence surrounding menopause by getting real with all it entails and creating a space for open conversation. Dr. Minkin acknowledges the societal barriers that have prevented such discussions, from the historically taboo nature of sexual and menstrual health to the negative connotations around aging.
So how do you know if you’re experiencing menopause? Of course, it’s always a good rule of thumb to talk to your doctor about changes in your period and other symptoms if you’re between the ages of 45 and 55 and suspect you may be experiencing perimenopause. It’s worth mentioning, though, that 1 in 100 women will begin to go through menopause before they turn 40. While it may be genetic, the result of an autoimmune disorder, or a side effect of chemotherapy, we still aren’t totally sure what causes primary ovarian insufficiency (POI), or early menopause.
Here’s what we do know: the menopausal transition is associated with symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness (which can lead to painful sex), trouble sleeping, moodiness, changes in your bodily composition, and—you guessed it—incontinence. As you age, you may experience a loss in bladder control, which is characterized by the sudden urge to urinate as well as urinary leakage when laughing, sneezing, exercising, and more. Thankfully, bladder leak solutions like Thinx for All Leaks underwear are equipped to absorb light leaks and crotch sweat. Plus, turning your focus towards your pelvic floor health through changes to your exercise and diet can help to alleviate some of the pressure on your bladder.
While these symptoms may not be a walk in the park, the good news is that the conversation surrounding menopause is more open and robust than ever before. Surrounding yourself with accurate information and a supportive community are crucial steps in taking on this natural time of transition. And of course, as always, paying attention to your body is imperative. After all, you know your body best, and intense symptoms may be your body trying to flag to you that something else is up.
What are your best hacks and remedies for menopause symptoms? How does your experience with perimenopause and menopause live up to the negative hype? Share your story in the comments!
Meg Loughman (she/her) is a bayou-born, Brooklyn-based writer & content strategist. When she’s not journaling to lofi beats at a cafe somewhere, she likes to moodboard and partake in slow, luxurious breakfasts. You can keep up with her work on her website and tune into her sporadic dispatches & musings on Instagram.
Posted: May 26, 2022